Hepatitis C infections nearly triple in 5 years from heroin epidemic

Hepatitis C in the US: Cases triple in past 5 years

Hepatitis C infections tripled in five years

New hepatitis C virus infections in the United States almost tripled between the years 2010 and 2015.

Most infections resulted from injection drug use, officials said, underscoring calls by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for needle exchanges as a way to thwart drug addicts from spreading disease. Even scarier? The CDC estimates that rates are actually much higher-about 34,000 new infections a year-and that many people don't know they have it.

Hepatitis C is inflammation of the liver that can be caused by drug use, toxins, heavy alcohol use, some diseases or bacterial and viral infections.

A new report shows Kentucky, Tennessee, and IN are among seven states with twice the national rate of Hepatitis C cases. The infection often produces no symptoms in its early stages, though it can lead to liver failure if left untreated.

"The hepatitis C epidemic has been on the rise". Apart from the 91 overdose deaths a day, the opioid epidemic is also responsible for the spike of hepatitis C cases of late. The highest rates were in West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, despite a lack of increased funding for detecting new infections by the CDC during the years the survey was conducted.

"We have a cure for this disease and the tools to prevent new infections", he said in a statement accompanying the research.

Infants can't be screened for Hepatitis C at birth because they still have a lot of their mom's antibodies so they have to be tracked, said Patrick, who was co-author of the study. They are six times more likely to be infected than people in other age groups and have a much higher risk of death from the virus, the CDC said. Last year, the agency reported a record number of fatalities from the virus occurred in 2014.

In Wisconsin, cases of acute Hepatitis C have skyrocketed, going up 450 percent from 2011 to 2015.

Some children have been known to clear the virus on their own, while others can start treatment around age three. Specifically, these 18 states do not have laws authorizing a syringe exchange program.

Hepatitis C is a viral disease that damages the liver. Free needle exchanges, which minimize the sharing of needles that transmit the disease, also face challenges with funding and opposition among those who believe it encourages drug use. About 75% of the 3.5 million Americans already living with hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965.

Standard treatment of the disease was revolutionized in 2013 with the advent of direct-acting antiviral drugs, which cure 90 to 95 percent of patients, with little or no side effects, according to the CDC.

"How can we afford not to save people's lives at $84,000?" says Gruber, now an economics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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